Hailing from Greenville, SC, 19-year old Marcus King is one of the most talented up-and-coming musicians in any genre today. The re-release of his album Soul Insight on Warren Haynes’ Evil Teen Records in 2015 has been met with high praise, as King and his band are so brilliantly able to craft elements of psychedelic music, southern rock, blues and jazz to create a robust sound that is so uniquely their own.
Recently, Live For Live Music’s Shane McFarland got to catch up with King and covered topics ranging from his family roots in music, to his experiences with jazz theory and performance, his relationship with Warren Haynes and what it was like to play a couple of Duane Allman’s guitars. Read the entire interview below:
L4LM: First things first, how’s the New Years treating you? I know you finished last year off on a high note. I was lucky enough to come down to Asheville and see you play at Haynes’ Christmas Jam.
Marcus King: Oh man…yeah… that was a blast. New Year is treatin’ us really good. All feelin’ good. Good spirits, good health. We’re having a good time cutting this new album.
L4LM: Before we get into the album a little more, I just wanted to get a little more background for our readers who may not be familiar with your work. A little basic, but when was it that you started playing guitar and your influences? I know you’ve said your father is still one of your biggest musical heroes.
MK: Yeah man, my dad, my grandfather have always been…My grandfather was like my guru and they started teaching me at a really early age and they never forced me into it, but they really motivated me towards it and always shared an ample amount of support. I guess ever since around the time that I started walking I was bangin’ around on something and I got an appreciation for it between the ages of five and seven.
L4LM: What is it like for you to be able to share a connection like playing music with your Dad? That’s not something every father-son relationship has. I have to imagine that’s pretty special.
MK: Yeah man, it’s a beautiful thing, especially as being two guitar players. You know musically, we’re sharing the same DNA, so, we’re sharing the same ideas and kinda taking it to the same places that we both feel is right in our hearts and in our minds so it’s like a telepathic thing, y’know? It’s a really cool thing to be able to make music with your family.
L4LM: So, you’re playing gigs with your Dad around Greenville as a kid, when did the light bulb go off for you when you said, “I want to make a go of it as a professional musician?” Or were those inklings already implanted in you?
MK: Oh, well I guess when I was eight years old or nine years old. I had always really known music is what I wanted to do. There’s no question about that. At that point it was just kinda figuring out the steps to get me to where I wanted to be. And I was playing with my dad’s band pretty heavily, and then out of that I started my own group, and we started playing at small cafes and stuff. At that time the band was called Simultaneous Groove, and went through a couple different names before we landed on the Marcus King Band. And all the time I was playing with my dad’s band, his band kinda dispersed up until recently, he’s doing his thing; anytime we get the opportunity, we try to get together and jam as much as we can.
L4LM: The guys in your band are guys you grew up with or guys you played with around the scene?
MK: Yeah, all the cats in the group are guys I met just jammin’ around the scene, the Greenville scene, and coming across ‘em and just being like: “Man, they’re good…If I were a player I’d really like to work with them.” So I was kinda able to assemble somewhat of a dream team through all the cats in the groups, just finding them. Not necessarily poaching them, but just saying, “Hey, I think this could be a really cool thing if you come and play with us.” And it’s kind of built from there.
L4LM: The blues influences are obvious in your music, but maybe not as obvious to some listeners is the jazz influences. I’ve read that you studied jazz theory and jazz performance with a gentleman named Steve Watson at the Greenville Fine Arts Center. Can you tell me more about that and how that’s contributed to your sound now?
MK: Steve, I studied with him for about two and half years; private lessons and in the Fine Arts Center in jazz performance and jazz theory, and basically what Steve did was he took what I was already doing and put a vocabulary to it and added to that vocabulary. He was able to put a name to things I was already playing and to give me a better idea and a better understanding of the theory side of things, which I find is really important. It really helps with songwriting and it also taught me a lot about will power and really working for something you care so deeply about.
L4LM: Let’s move onto the record, Soul Insight. You released it in 2014 and then re-released it this past year?
MK: Yes, sir. We released it September of 2014 and re-released it October of 2015.
L4LM: Tell you what, my copy of the vinyl is supposed to come in tomorrow, and I have to say I’m pretty excited about it. Can’t wait to put it on the turntable. Was this also the period that you came in contact with Warren Haynes?
MK: Yeah, we had a lot of mutual friends with Warren coming from Asheville, NC that I wrote with and played gigs with, and just through that and them showing my music to him and Stef [Scamardo], it just kind of built and built until the point where Stef and Warren were like “Alright, we really wanna meet this guy,” so I was able to have a sit down with Stef and we had the opportunity to play Warren’s Christmas Jam By Day (2014). I didn’t know it at the time, but it was sort of a live audition to come on board to the Hard Head Management team, and it worked out. It was a beautiful thing. And we all knew we wanted to cut this new album, but we kinda need something to get us up on our feet so we decided to re-release Soul Insight just because we didn’t think it had hit the amount of ears we had wanted it to and kind of give it a different identity in its own right. Especially putting it on vinyl, the first day we listened to it on vinyl we were like “Man, this is how we want people to hear what it is we’re doing.”
L4LM: Do you notice any type of different reception now since you’ve re-released the album at your live shows?
MK: Yeah, I think we’ve kinda discovered our own little fanbase. People have kinda gravitated towards it more so than the first go around. People are little more susceptible to it and they’re just really digging it, you know? I think they’re really excited to see what we come up with, but it scared the shit outta us (laughs) because we don’t wanna let ’em down on our sophomore attempt.
L4LM: Now you produced the album, too? Is that correct?
MK: Yeah, Soul Insight, I self produced that one.
L4LM: What is it about the production side of the music that you like? Is the element of musical arranging something you got when you were studying jazz theory?
MK: You know, the arrangements and all that…certain instrumentation and where it comes in. I was pretty instrumental in the mixing side of things as well, some of the sillier sound effects and what not. I just wanted the album to have kinda a general sense of, you know, like the seriousness with the jazz fusion and the hard rock…I kinda had an idea for the album to be not necessarily eclectic, but have something for every sort of individual’s ear.
L4LM: Changing topics a little, you were out on a run with The Revivalists. Can you tell me more about that? I saw you got to stop at The Big House (Allman Brothers Band museum) in Macon, GA to play a couple of Duane Allman’s guitars. I’m sure that was a trip.
MK: Man, that was a spiritual experience if i can say in the least. To be able to play Duane’s Hummingbird and especially the gold top. And then they allowed me to bring it out and play it at the show. And playing “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” on Duane’s gold top in Macon, Georgia, you know, it was kinda the epitome of everything I was raised on. It was a really spiritually jolting experience. And the travel with The Revivalists, those guys are just so like-minded in the idea of bringing the music to the people in a positive light and letting music be sort of the channel of your emotions. All those guys are so much fun to hang out with. I really dig what they’re putting down as well.
L4LM: So what’s the rest of this year looking like for you? I know you have a lot of tunes saved up for the new record and a couple dates here in February and then some festival dates in the Spring as well.
MK: Yeah, well right now we’re just in the studio. We’re cuttin’ some new stuff and really excited about a lot of it. A lot of it is just really brand new material that have maybe seen one live show or two that we’re kind of building in the studio. But a lot of it is stuff we’ve been road-working for the past year or so. And the rest of this year, we’re not sure where it’s gonna take us, we just know we want to keep going. We wanna stay right after it. We’re really hungry and we just wanna keep playing as much as we can cause that’s our passion. That’s what kinda keeps us sane, y’know?
L4LM: Okay, I’ll get you out of here on this one. I know the Panthers play in Charlotte but it is Super Bowl weekend. Who do you like?
MK: (Laughs) You know, we’re all Carolina boys, so we gotta pull for our Panthers in the Super Bowl.
L4LM: Thanks again for your time, Marcus. Best of luck to you in the upcoming year.
The Marcus King Band’s debut album Soul Insight is available now via live download, CD or vinyl here.